That Album We Did
Ten years ago, my best buddy Ned and I recorded an album for the Record Production Month Challenge. It was terrible. Like most terrible things I’ve done, it makes for a good story. So grab a hot cocoa and gather around the glowing screen while I tell you how it went down in 2008.
Record Production Month Challenge 2008
I started teaching myself to play electric guitar and bass in the early 2000’s. Being a technical guy, that meant finding things on the internet. Eventually, I found out about the RPM Challenge. In the month of February, write and record an entire album in twenty eight days. It’s the musical equivalent of NaNoWriMo. Not only did I think it was a great idea, I talked my best friend Ned into it. Did I mention that we could barely play our respective instruments. But his dad had an in-home recording studio, so how could we fail.
I had it planned out across all four weekends. Friday night after work, I would write a song, that’s lyrics and music. Then Saturday morning, wake up, rewrite the music and change the lyrics. Head over to Ned’s for lunch and then record. Saturday night, repeat the pattern. I am pretty sure my wife was sick of that project, given that every weekend was tied up with Ned.
Scratching at the First Song
I whipped up a slow tune similar to Nirvana’s Something In the Way about a guy playing a videogame and dying a lot. Ned’s dad gave us some pointers, and recommended we record a Scratch Track. That’s where you play the song on guitar all the way through and record that as a track. Then, when you record the next instrument, you have something to play the song with.
My job was guitars, so it fell to me to play the song on beat and all the way through. Remember, how I said we sucked at our instruments. It took forever to get a usable track where I played the entire song all the way through without mistake. A song that I had made up the night before. That was painful.
Break on Through
The next day, we learned that we could record a riff and stretch it in Garageband. That meant, I only needed to play a fragment, four or five bars that represented a riff and we could repeat it and copy/paste it as much as we needed. Holy crap did that simplify things. We got into a groove with me recording the bass line in fragments. Then Ned did the drum track. Guitar track came next. Ned would finish with vocals and we’d be done. Whole process would take about four hours per song, right up until we did the easy song.
The Easiest Song That Wasn’t
Our best song was an acoustic number I wrote called Long Way From Home. It was simple, two tracks. Guitar and Ned singing. All I had to do was play proper chords on an acoustic guitar. Which once I needed them, I couldn’t fret to save my life. We got the song done in the same four hours, but it took a zillion takes to get my part right. One thing I loved about working with Ned, was that even though I couldn't sing on key to save my life, I could give him an example of how I think it should be sung, “but make it sound good.” And he did.
I’m not deluded enough to think our album was good. But I’d also heard the absolute worst band on the planet, called Complete. For your own safety, don’t google that up. We were better than that. That said, the well was getting low, so we took one song that showed lyrical promise until we recorded it, and made three versions with Ned doing muppet and preacher voices. That was horrible, but helped fill in the 45 minutes we needed. We also recorded the Twelve Bar Blues as a director’s commentary track for another 10 minutes.
Out of the entire album, we had two songs that stood out. The aforementioned acoustic bit and Protest, an angry punk complaint about everything worth complaining about. I also have to say, that just about every track, I did well on the endings. So if you do give any songs a listen, at least you’ll have the finish to look forward to.
I don’t think Ned was as impressed with the final product. I remember he got stressed about finishing it. But he stuck with it and we did. Ned did all the arranging and mixing, and wrote several of the songs. It was a team effort, and we did it. I can appreciate how hard it is to create music, let alone an entire album. Plus, I got to hang out with my friend, crack jokes and work on something we cared about.
And yeah, the RPM Challenge is still going on. And our album is still there. Didn’t get all the track names listed for some reason.
The Black Hats @2,008 RPM